I’ve been saving the contents of old floppy disks onto my computer. It’s a long process, and I get distracted by these things I wrote ten to twenty years ago, feeling by turns regret, pride, melancholy, and surprise.
I originally had a blog back in 2003 on the Modblog platform. It was a great platform; its social features were way ahead of its time. I wrote so many things on that blog, and perhaps it’s good that many of them were lost when the servers went down and never came back some time in 2006. (I tended to say things better kept private and I was also far more controversial than today.) One of the few blog posts I’ve found on a floppy disk is this review of John Updike’s Rabbit at Rest. When I wrote this in 2005, I loved that novel; it wasn’t as good when I re-read it a few years later. But perhaps it was the right book for that moment in my life. So here it is, a draft of one of the few surviving posts of nathanhobby.modblog.com.
Rabbit at Rest by John Updike (1990)
This novel is scented with death from start to finish. Each ten years, John Updike has gone back to revisit the world of Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom, and this time it’s 1989 and at 57 Rabbit has heart disease.
A trip to the airport to pick up his son is described in exquisite detail, the experience of disorientation, driving through traffic, observations about the airport. The temptation of candy, his hankering for it, his seeing a pornographic magazine on the way out of the airport shop.
It’s a novel which deals of the death in all of life, mundane every day life. But not just death; the joy and trials of everyday life. Updike manages to nail the experience of living in a way that, to my mind, only James Joyce has done as well. Sleep for example:
His eyelids feel heavy again; a fog within is rising up to swallow his brain. When you are sleepy an inner world smaller than a seed in sunlight expands and becomes irresistible, breaking the shell of consciousness. It is so strange; there must be some other way of being alive than all this eating and sleeping, this burning and freezing, this sun and moon. (327)
He can’t believe he’s been asleep; no time has passed, just a thought or two took a strange elastic shape as it went around a corner. His mouth feels furry. (327)
One of the most poignant moments in literature occurs when Rabbit, the faded high school basketball star, has one last moment of pseudo-glory as he leads the July 4 parade, dressed as Uncle Sam. The sky is ominously overcast and his beard won’t stick properly. Rabbit is the all American: solipsistic; selfish with moments of generosity; conservative without really thinking about things; earnest, a salesman.
Rabbit’s political thoughts are so deliciously telling:
Rabbit liked Reagan. He liked the foggy voice, the smile, the big shoulders, the way his head kept wagging during the long pauses, the way he floated above the facts, and the way he could change direction while saying he was going straight ahead. (61)
Rabbit’s last move in this world is to return to his old glory in a one on one basketball match against a black youth. He can feel his heart tearing inside him, and yet he still won’t stop, he needs more than anything to win this insignificant game. And he does, and then he dies.
I love this book. It is the best of the brilliant Rabbit series.